I thought my friend was joking when he said "there's a turtle waiting for you by the back door."

I thought my friend was joking when he said "there's a turtle waiting for you by the back door."

When I walked by a couple of hours later, there he still was, sitting under a flower pot where I have been feeding wild turtles over summer.

Record hot temperatures, and the continuing drought, have forced wildlife into gardens to find water, food and shelter. When I go on my morning walks, it's not unusual to find 3-5 turtles. I know they've also been around by finding little soil indentations where they have been digging and settling in to conserve water.

Louie is easy to spot. He's missing his left front foot so I think of him as Lefty Louie.

Louie is a three-toed Missouri box turtle who's developed a taste for strawberries.
I suspect he's the one who figured out earlier this spring how to climb up my raised garden bed to get to the strawberry patch. I could see him from my dining room window, walking back and forth on the path until he found a rock.

He would climb over the rock, then move his right leg up the wood until he could pull himself over the ledge. I noticed then that something was wrong with his left foot. Turtles have been around for millions of years but according to Missouri's Department of Conservation, they are losing their natural habitat to housing and other developments.

Missouri has 17 native turtles; all but three are protected.

Turtles first appear on roads late spring when they're moving to mate and lay eggs.
One of their main predators are cars. If I see a turtle on a road, I tend to stop and move them off the road in the same direction they were heading. If they're in an area with high traffic, I bring them home and release them in my wildlife garden, where they have small ponds surrounded by forest. It's perfect turtle habitat, and I appreciate their contributions to my garden.

Turtles are beneficial scavengers; they eat water plants, dead animals, snails, aquatic insects, crayfish, earthworms and - don't forget - strawberries!

Charlotte Ekker Wiggins shares her gardening adventures at http://www.gardeningcharlotte.com. Copyright 2012 used with permission by Gatehouse Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at 4charlottewiggins@gmail.com.